Skip to main content

Shelby White: "positive for the future of collecting antiquities"

Hicham Aboutaam, owner of Phoenix Ancient Art of New York and Geneva, has now commented on the announcement that Shelby White has returned nine antiquities to Italy (and a tenth will follow).

Ula Ilnytzky ("Return of artifacts by private collector seen as positive step",, January 18, 2008) quotes Aboutaan:
Overall, this is positive for the future of collecting antiquities and for the future of a trade that's crucial to America's culture ... Collectors in antiquities should be conducting more due diligence than in the past.
Clearly the suggestion is that collectors have not been conducting sufficient due diligence: and the implication is that the dealers who sold them antiquities have also been remiss. (Perhaps that it is why antiquities returned from two named dealers are on exhibition in Rome at the moment: and remember that Ali and Hicham Aboutaan were the listed donors of one of the pieces returned from the Princeton University Art Galleries.)

Aboutaan thought that the deal with White "is the beginning of more a careful era in collecting cultural properties." I hope he is right.

He makes a call for more transparency:
I suggest that collectors show what they have and follow what Shelby and Leon did - publish photos and background on these works, in a catalog or registry.
He suggests that some collectors have acted in "good faith". Yet in North America the issue of looting has had a high profile since the adoption of the AIA Resolution in 1973. Collectors like Shelby White and Leon Levy knew - or should have known if they had taken responsible advice - the issues when they started buying. But they wanted to own "ancient art" and ignored the impact on the archaeological record.

There have been suggestions that White has been picked on. The New York Times reported:
“She had an attitude of ‘Why me? There are other collectors out there,’ ” said one official who asked not to be identified for fear of offending Ms. White by describing the talks. “The truth is, because she’s lent so many of her pieces, she was very visible. Other collectors tend to keep their antiquities at home.”
But anybody who has been following this case will know that other collectors have been highlighted. These include Barbara Fleischman (who did the honourable thing and resigned from being a Trustee of the J. Paul Getty Museum) and Maurice Tempelsman.

White's philanthropy has been tainted. And the era of collecting recently-surfaced antiquities should perhaps be at an end.


Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.